Aside from producing spotless copy and thoroughly proofreading your work, one of your most important duties as a technical writer is to research the companies and individuals you are planning to work for. Taking the time to do a little investigating can help you determine whether you are dealing with a legitimate company, which will definitely help set your mind at ease. Here are some tips to help you tell whether you should proceed with caution or not at all:
Google can be your best friend: When you are contacted by a potential client, Google should be the first place you visit. If they've given you a company name, run it through the search engine to see what comes up. If they have a website, take a few minutes to look around. This will not only let you see whether the business looks legit, but will also let you learn more about the company (which clients love). If it's an individual, you can also Google them. You may not get any hits, but you could find out that they've worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies (a promising sign). Another great advantage of Google is that you can find out about complaints against the company or individual. Try typing the company or person's name in quotes and adding words like complaints, scam, or non-payment.
Check out the BBB: Remember, just because a company isn't registered with the Better Business Bureau doesn't automatically mean they are a shady business, but it's always a good sign if they are. If the company you are researching is a member of the BBB, take a few minutes to verify that the information they gave you matches the info on the BBB's website. You can also view data about complaints filed against the company. If there are lots of unresolved ones, you may decide to keep looking for more trustworthy clients.
Ask for info: If you don't feel like you have enough information about a person or company, ask! You can inquire about where their business is located, if they have a website (if Google didn't deliver any results), what payment methods they prefer, and how long they've been in business. Remember, most companies will request information like this from you, so there's no reason they shouldn't be willing to provide it as well.
Watch those email addresses: A guy named Jake contacts you and claims he works for Microsoft. The problem? His email address is email@example.com. Wouldn't it make more sense if it was firstname.lastname@example.org? Examining email address can be one way to determine whether you are dealing with a genuine company rep or a person looking to get some free work. Beware of "disposable" email addresses like hotmail, gmail, yahoo, etc. People can easily create fake identities, get free work, and repeat. For this reason, it's important to get lots of information (and preferably a contract) before you proceed.
Last Updated: 05/05/2014